Just when I thought TV couldn’t get any better, Bryan Fuller comes along with his new child, and oh how I love it. In what many are calling the “Peak era of television”, ‘American Gods’ is a bold, violent, intriguing and refreshing change of scenery that manages to stand out among the likes of ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Leftovers’ as some of the best entertainment on the small screen.
Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, ‘American Gods’, starring Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Gillian Anderson, Yetide Badaki, Bruce Langley and Crispin Glover, follows the character of Shadow Moon. A recently released convict who drifts into the path of the mysterious and charismatic Mr Wednesday, who hires him as his bodyguard. This leads to Shadow trying to come to terms with a hidden world, where a war is brewing between the Old Gods and New Gods.
Now, after the sad cancellation of Bryan Fuller’s last television program, ‘Hannibal’, the criminally underrated modern psychological horror classic, I was curious to see what Bryan would write and produce next. From the first episode “The Bone Orchard”, you can see the similarities between ‘Hannibal’ and ‘American Gods’ and that is easily a compliment. From the beautiful yet haunting imagery that pierces our eyes, to the chilling music from by Brian Reitzell, who also supervised the music for ‘Hannibal’. This is the kind of content Bryan Fuller is best at making and it really makes him one of the best television writers/producers today. But all of the credit can’t just go towards Bryan. Michael Green also wrote and produced ‘American Gods’ with Bryan. The quality that comes from these two is just amazing and what they make next will have a lot to live up to.
Getting back to ‘American Gods’, the performances are simply amazing. Ricky Whittle is great as the “lead character” Shadow Moon. He basically acts as the connection between us viewers and the crazy world that is portrayed in ‘American Gods’, yet his character’s background and tragic story is told nicely and we really feel empathetic towards him. He was great to watch, but it was his main co-star who stole the show, Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday. Ian McShane was perfectly cast in a role that could easily land him an Emmy nomination. He was charismatic, mysterious, intriguing and funny as this strange character, and I loved it. Emily Browning was also a pleasant surprise as Laura Moon, whose character arc was really enjoyable to watch. Another notable performance was Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney, whose team-up with Laura was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show. Crispin Glover was also entertainingly creepy as Mr World, whose character is only shown in a couple of scenes throughout the season, yet every time he appeared was a treat to watch. I could mention the other performances, but I must move on.
The look and feel of ‘American Gods’ is based directly on Neil Gaiman’s vision, and it was great to see on-screen. From blood drenched fights, to a graphic sex scene between two men (which was definitely an interesting scene to watch), this was a pure modern fantasy and the way that Bryan Fuller and Michael Green translated it onto the screen was like staring into a strange yet masterful piece of art. Now, some may find the imagery too artsy or strange for their tastes, but it perfectly suits the tone of the show and if it was watered/dumbed down, we would have been left with a rather shallow adaptation and an average television program.
Some of the biggest standout moments in ‘American Gods’ were moments that didn’t directly affect the main story-line, but were moments that dealt with other gods and some of the things they deal with. A prime example of this was the scenes that dealt with the queen/goddess Bilquis (a haunting performance from Yetide Badaki). Her first scene was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen on the small screen and I won’t spoil it, as seeing it without knowing what was going to happen, was one of my favorite television moments of the year.
The eight episode structure was nice, but I feel like some of the pacing in the sixth and seventh episodes (“A Murder of Gods” and “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”) was a little out-of-place for the overarching plot and didn’t blend together perfectly, but it wasn’t terrible and you could still watch it and be thoroughly entertained.
Another thing to note was that the season ended with you wanting so much more, considering how much is set up in the earlier episodes, the actual payoff only starts to play out in the last-minute of the season finale. But then again, this also sets up a very promising second season, which if it will pick up from where this season ended, we are in for one hell of a treat.
Overall, ‘American Gods’ season 1 is one of the most unique, bold and clever television adaptations to come in recent memory. The beautiful and daring imagery, colourful performances, haunting soundtrack and intriguing story led to one of the best television experiences I’ve ever had. The positives definitely outshine the weaknesses, and it was a treat to watch. Although it may not be for everyone as it can be quite strange, it is worth looking into and adding to the top of your must watch list.